There are lots of benefits to being the youngest in a family of five children. Aside from claiming the Favorite Child title, I reaped the benefits of being much younger than my siblings so that when they were all leaving home, I was also beginning my “new life as an only child”. Mom and Dad were all mine.

As we gathered during the final week of Mom’s life and started to reflect on her journey and our part in it, we pulled out the photo albums and noticeably absent were my photos. Mom was pretty meticulous about chronicling her children’s moments but like Dad told me this week when we looked at the photos, each time she added a child, she did less and less with her hair. And so it was with these photo books. By the time I came along, she was up to her elbows in diapers, baseball games, Boy Scouts, teenage drama and more. Who had the time to paste photos in a book? It doesn’t upset me NOW that I am not in the albums although I remember when I was younger being a little disappointed for not being well represented. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t well documented in photos or that I didn’t get to experience things like my siblings. My brother asked me if I had felt neglected or that I had missed out on stuff. No, I don’t feel that way. My experiences were just different. I missed out on NOTHING.

One of the advantages to being an “only child” is that it was much easier to bring me along on their adventures. If you can call photographing the outside of a Longs Drug Store an adventure – Mom & Dad may argue that it was just a job but for this kid, it WAS an adventure. I was always in the car going someplace with them. In hindsight I think I must have studied Dad when he photographed these stores because he was always looking for the best angle. Let’s be honest Longs stores pretty much all looked the same and to get them to stand out he tried to photograph them at the right time of day, or at the right angle so the background would compliment the photograph. Mom was always at his elbow lending her advice about the photos as she lined up the Polaroid test shots across her lap and dashboard of the car.

These Longs photography road trips were pretty frequent and many times very early in the morning before the store was officially open. Dad needed “customers” to fill the shots and that was up to Mom and I. We’d grab a cart and we’d walk in and out of the store over and over again while he clicked away. So we’d talk, usually about mundane things and I can’t really recall any subject in particular but it sticks in my mind because this was something I was doing with her – just me. And I we did it A LOT. I didn’t think it at the time but you know what? It was fun. Mom was fun.

I could go on and on about the different trips that I got to take with Mom & Dad. Because there were so many from road trips to Arizona, to hanging out in Hawaii to flying to New York to attend a trade show to driving around New England to hit every single covered bridge in Vermont and filling up trunks with shoes they had purchased at every single outlet center they could find. We were traveling beasts. It was pretty cool. With some of the trips, I’d miss school. In order to miss school and still get decent grades, Mom would negotiate with the teachers by promising that I would write a report about the things I saw and experienced. I wasn’t too excited about the report writing but then there we were on a redeye flight back home – all three of us assembling the reports with photos and captions.

If I could describe Mom it would be as “my champion”… she would back me up in almost anything. When I thought I wouldn’t get to go to the Senior Ball, and then at the very last minute was invited to go, Mom took me out of school and we spent the day in San Francisco hunting down a prom dress.

When I met a guy in an online chat room she warned me about how he could be a hatchet murderer and when I told her his last name was Fluck, she didn’t miss a beat and declared, “Ah, crap! You’re probably going to end up marrying him.” Well, she was half right. I did marry him and thankfully for the rest of us, he was not a hatchet murderer.

When I planned my wedding, not only did Mom design all of the flower arrangements but with a picture of a wedding dress I had seen in a magazine in hand, she and Dad hunted down the only shop in California that carried it and drove hours to get there, see it in person and then call me in Tennessee to let me know they loved it and were buying it. I am pretty sure that is NOT how you buy a wedding dress – sight unseen, not tried on, etc. – but I had faith in my parents that they knew what they were saying. And they were right. The dress was perfect.

Mom may have been super supportive at most times but she wasn’t shy about giving her opinion. She was very vocal about the dangers of how I met Mike. And even after the wedding and we had moved into our first home, she and I had words about him. Mom came to visit us in Tennessee and I honestly can’t remember what her beef was but I do remember standing up to her. I remember telling her that I was not only an adult and capable of making my own decisions but that I had chosen Mike and it wasn’t up to her anymore. It was probably the most heated argument we had ever had…seriously…it was a “we’re driving in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee, stop the car, I am getting out and walking” kind of fight. She knew I was serious. And she never again said another word. But I kept that experience tucked in the back of my mind for future use if necessary. I never had to bring it up again.

When Mike died, Mom grieved almost as much as I did. We would talk about him and she would say to me, “Mike was my friend. He listened to me.” That touched me because it not only spoke of the man Mike was but it also meant Mom never stopped learning. Mike knew that he had his work cut out for him to win Mom’s approval and in his “Mike Way” he did that by fostering a friendship with my mother. Mom learned that people are not always as they seem and when given the opportunity they would rise above any expectations and surprise you. Mom loved Mike very much and she would provide me perspective about who he was, what he felt and why he did the things he did. Her words of wisdom in regards to her son-in-law would temper my anger and frustration. I will miss that the most because I am not done dealing with my feelings in regards to how Mike died. I still need her wisdom.

I could probably write a book about my memories of Mom.

In the mid-1980s, Mom LOVED going to boutiques. These were basically home-grown flea markets that people would set up in their garages or living rooms to sell their crafts on the weekend. We went to these boutiques nearly every weekend during the fall months. Eventually mom would get involved in her own boutiques so she could peddle her homemade afghans and padded photo albums. She would partner with some other ladies she knew from church. I would sit there all day as they would chit chat in someone’s living room. Mom would always put a pot of apple cider on the stove, throw in some cinnamon sticks and let the aroma fill the house. It was a marketing technique that worked. To this day whenever I smell that smell it reminds me of sitting there drawing pictures to pass the time while Mom tried to sell her wares.

If there was something iconic about Mom, it was her hair. Dad would tell me stories about how long, thick and dark Mom’s hair was when he met her in high school. I remember thinking “how could that be?” For as long as I have been around Mom has sported a wig and she has pretty much looked the same for ALL OF MY LIFE. The story goes that sometime way back when, someone got the idea that maybe Mom could do more with her hair if there wasn’t so much of it and so her mother – my Nana – one day did something to thin out my Mom’s luxurious mane of hair. My guess is that the plan backfired and whatever Mom was left with wasn’t what she wanted the rest of the world to see so she hid it beneath a wig. Mom was meticulously private when it came to her wigs and we not only didn’t speak of the wigs but not a single one of us was allowed in the room when she groomed her hair.

I can admit now – probably because she is gone and I won’t get a chickpot pie in the face in retaliation – I did sneak a peek a few times when I was a kid. Sorry, Mom.

When Mom had her stroke in 2010 and things got more difficult for her to do, I became Mom’s hairdresser. I know it was very difficult for her to allow me to see her this way. And I must have looked like Luke Skywalker when he took off Darth Vader’s mask the first time I removed her wig. This single daily act of service that I provided Mom is my favorite memory. Mom trusted me to brush what was left of her hair – and it really wasn’t that bad. But I get why she hid it. What was left was a mere reminder of what once was – she still had, even into her 70s dark strands peppered with gray. It was long and thinner but it provided me a glimpse of the girl she that she still was – spunky and fiercely opinionated.

Styling Mom’s wig was a challenge. I could never quite get it how she could get it and I am amazed at how she was able to turn what showed up in a box on our doorstep into what eventually lay on her head. I would style it very much how one would mold clay. And towards the end, I think she cared less and less with how it looked. She just enjoyed the looks of frustration on my face and my reactions when I would come home from a trip and see the state her hair was in. I would ask in horror, “WHAT did you do to your hair?” She would just laugh. And I think that is the best way to deal with what you can’t control – find the humor in it and laugh.

When I think about all these things and other memories that have come flooding back, I can say with certainty that Mom AWESOMED THE CRAP out of me. She is my role model in every way. If my own daughter can look back on my life one day with the same reflection that I look at my mother’s life, then I know I did ok. And I will have Mom to thank for that.

If I had to describe my Nana in one word it would be “spunky”. She was full of spirit and passion and something I see so much in my sister, Amy. She was a great example of showing us how to be proud of who we are and standing up for ourselves.

When I was little I remember visiting the old Concord house and seeing the “white room”. I was always in awe over its perfection with its perfect vacuum lines. As a little girl I was itching to go mess them up. Now as an adult I find no better satisfaction then to see those vacuum lines on my own floors.

Just because she had a room that was off limits, except for special visits and occasions, doesn’t mean going to Nana and Granddads was a “you must act proper” experience. She let our imaginations grow and we were able to play to our hearts content. They were just fine with epic lightsaber battles taking place upstairs.

Nana didn’t just give me a love of vacuum lines but between her and my mom I found my love of cooking. I loved going to Nana’s to make or eat, whichever was fine with me, her famous Nana fudge. I loved sitting around her counter, getting out the kitchen aid mixer, and making sweet treats. It’s a memory I have started passing down to my own children. The fudge is not just fudge, its Nana’s Famous Fudge in our house. Nana made holidays and family gatherings important and loved having the family around her.

As we grew to be teenagers, Nana was never afraid to tell us when we were getting out of line or when our latest hair style was not her favorite. She had her opinions and she was never afraid to let us hear them, and we loved her for that. Nana and Granddad always made us feel special and cheered us on, whether it was my sister Darcy, and her writing, Amy in her athletics, or me, in my music, they were always there to tell us how proud they were.

I secretly kept every note and letter I have from them for birthdays or just because, they always meant so much to me. I love looking at Nana’s handwriting and silly pictures she drew on my cards.

I loved following the stories nana found on her genealogy hunt and am so grateful to be a part of that history. Walking into the temple and doing family names always had so much more meaning to me. I was so grateful for those experiences.

During my last visit with Nana she said, “Are all of these people here for me?” The answer is yes, Nana. Yes, they are all there for you, to love and thank you for finding them. She created a beautiful family legacy here on earth, but in heaven, it’s because of her that our family can be eternal.

-the most extensive and colorful collection of mumu’s I’ve ever seen. I think she had a different mumu on every time I saw her.

-QVC 24/7, they were always delivering something to the house and every present we ever received was wrapped in a QVC box.

-presents from Nana were always the hardest to open, because she used what seemed like an entire roll of tape on each present, and you never knew if you were going to receive an empty box or not

-her eyes always sparkled when she smiled

-she made the best fudge hands down! Her recipe will be passed down forever

-a love for all things lace, rhinestone, pearls and frilly. Every photo album and scrap book I ever got from her was covered in lace or some sort of floral fabric with pearls.

-the most beautiful handwriting I’ve ever seen, I wish I could have her penmanship.

-when you and mom were on one of your trips nana watched us and I got the flu. She put me in a pair of the itchiest, hot pj’s and tucked me in so tight into bed I couldn’t move. She told me the best way to get rid of a fever was to sweat it out.

-whenever she would say something inappropriate she would just say the words just fall out of her face.

-that Christmas that she got us nothing but gemstones and books about jewelry because she wanted us to appreciate pretty things. She was always teaching us about new subjects.

-she could draw anything! We could request anything from her and she could do it, no hesitation.

-having to call her to get permission to cut my hair short for the first time. She always told me how much she loved my hair.

-when she went with mom and I to buy my senior prom dress. Somehow she managed to get my tomboy self to fall in love with the poofiest fancy dress in the store. I will always think of Nana when I see pictures of that dress.

When I think of Nana, I think of color. She had a way of making the ordinary full and alive, and being in Nana’s house meant color–a backyard engulfed in plants and flowers to explore for hours, crystals hanging in the window making “rainbows” on the walls, wrapping myself up in the kaleidoscopic afghans she had crocheted. Her vibrant personality even flowed into her clothing– bright hues, bold prints, and not least of all her hallmark muumuus. But I think my favorite part about Nana was the multi-faceted shades that made up her life as a wife, mother, and grandmother. Just as buttercream, lemon, saffron, and goldenrod are all yellow, love, hilarity, strength, sass, tenderness, and a hundred other nuances combined make Nana unmistakably “Nana.”

Creativity flourished when you were with Nana. She could draw anything you could dream up–which meant I had close to an entire portfolio’s worth of cat drawings–crouching! sleeping! walking! sitting! She nailed them all, and I would try my hardest to copy them. The organ was never off limits, even though I can imagine now what a ten minute rendition of “Heart and Soul” played in the synthetic accordion and harpsichord must sound like. She tried to teach me to crochet, and when my enduring abhorrence of crafting became evident, she would sit by me and work on a blanket while I ditched plans for a blanket and worked on a long braid of yarn, changing the color for me as often as I wished. Because of Nana, pancake breakfasts will always hold a special place in my heart. Partnered with Grandad, there was not a single shape of pancake you could think of that they could not make.

Nana was always ready with a story to share about my dad, and aunts and uncles, and I was especially gleeful when it had something to do with them getting into trouble. She would tell me about animals and places where she had traveled. I remember being thoroughly certain that Hawaii must smell like Nana’s perfume. I remember she would let me roll around on her water bed until I was nearly seasick. One day I went in to play on her bed and I saw one of her wigs on a mannequin’s head. Not knowing she wore a wig, it scared the bejeezus out of me. I remember watching Nana very closely the rest of the day to make sure she hadn’t been kidnapped and had an impostor in her place. She obviously passed the test, as no one could come close to imitating her.

Being with Nana meant adventures big and small–a family trip to the theater in San Francisco, or a granddaughter-grandparent escape to Disneyland via train. Nana understood the importance of one-on-one time. We would often get coupons for hugs, sleepovers, and special outings. One of my most dear memories of Nana was using one of her “coupons” for an ice cream date, just me and her. I felt so special in that ice cream parlor, just the two of us. I knew I was important to her. It made such an impression that I think of it every time I go on our traditional monthly one-on-one “dates” with our kids. I want to be able to pass on that feeling I had just sitting in Baskin Robbins with my Nana.

Along with knowing the importance of meaningful time, Nana understood the importance of embracing everyone’s individuality. As an ineradicably shy little girl (and even as an adult), Nana seemed to understand that my quiteness and introversion wasn’t something to “fix.” Nana let me be quiet, and loved me, and was proud of me, not in spite of my personality, but I think because of it. I hope I can keep making her proud.

After hearing so many stories about her life recently, many for the first time, I feel like I am just beginning to know her. I know I will think of her all the more now when Adam has a lucky fishing day, when Haley pores over jewelry catalogues for hours, or when Jane flaunts her animated personality. I needed more time to soak up her experience, knowledge, and laughter. To say that Nana loved her family and was a bedrock of love to all those who had the privilege to know her feels like such an understatement–like trying to define color, I’m not sure if there are words to really capture it.

A few days ago, my Mom passed away. As a mother and daughter, we are uniquely connected with one another. When she gave birth to me, she was just a few months shy of 20 years old. As adults, it really is not much of an age difference. We always told one another that we would be awesomely cool old ladies together. I am heartbroken that we never got that chance. We would have been epic old ladies together.

It is hard to now move forward with everyday life without her in it. This is one of the most painful realities of being the one left behind. You can’t make any new memories. From now on, she is going to miss every birthday, every family dinner, every Thanksgiving and Christmas.

At this sensitive time, it helps just a little bit, however, to think back to the memories I have of Mom, especially of my childhood. I really did have a fantastically wonderful childhood. Like a lot of kids, I did not fully appreciate it until I was much older. I know that I have a lot of great and tender memories to cherish to help me move forward without Mom in my life.

50As a young girl, I was Mom’s living doll and it was all about the hair.

Some of my earliest memories as a child involve the nightly routine of kneeling down at Mom’s feet for her to put curlers in my hair. This was a time before electric curling irons – so there was a well thought-out, time-consuming process to achieving perfectly curled hair.

After my nightly bath, Mom would first attempt to brush out my wet hair with heavy and deliberate strokes. For the inevitable tangles, she would place one hand heavily on top of my head, tell me to bend my head down towards my chin, and then with her other hand she would take a comb to my hair and hank down with all her might.

Once my hair was completely smooth and straight, she would place a good-sized glob of something called Dippity-Do into the palm of her hand, rub her hands together and then run her fingers dripping with goop into my clean, wet and straight hair. Dippity-do was a kind of hair gel. Whenever possible, Mom used the extra holding Dippity-do. It was translucent green and extremely sticky. In a pinch, she would use the regular pink version but she had a certain preference for the extra holding green variety.

Once my hair was good and sticky, came the part where I got to help. It was my job to hand her the curlers. In my very early years, she used black curlers with bristles for the smaller, tight curls and hard pink curlers for the larger, loose curls. The pink curlers had two parts- first a roller to wind the hair around and then a second piece that was a semi-circle clip to hold the curler in place.

Mom would take the sharp pointy end of the comb and dig it into my scalp to select and separate out the few choice strands of hair to place in a curler. She would say “left” or “right”, if I was to hand her the curler over my left or right shoulder. She was very precise about curler placement- winding my hair tightly and securely into place, every strand accounted for. After a long while, my entire head would be covered with hard curlers.

She would then kiss me good night and send me off to bed to sleep. Even now, I do not think I can adequately describe what it was like to sleep with full head of hard curlers-some with bristles. There are simply no words for this kind of beauty torture.

It wasn’t until I was about 5 or so, that Mom took pity on me, (or maybe it was the advances in technology) and replaced my prickly black and hard pink curlers for the softer pink foam kind. While they were a big improvement in the comfort area, Mom would get frustrated if a curler became loose during the night creating an unbalanced head of hair- some curly and some not. Eventually, Mom decided to place my hair into two side ponytails and then place the foam curlers into the hair. This was my preferred method. I found that if I lay perfectly on my back and kept my head straight, I could fall asleep without have to lie on any curlers.

Mom also loved to experiment with my hairstyle. One time when I was about 4, she cut my hair off into a short pageboy style- no curlers required. Dad hated it. I loved it. Needless to say, it was not long before the hair grew back and we returned to our curler routine.

Picture Day at school was a particularly inspiring time of year for Mom. If you were to look at my grade school pictures, you can see a progression of popular at-the-time hairstyles. I believe it was my first or second grade school picture that Mom decided to style my hair exactly like hers- ratted up into a huge beehive type style. Truly- we could have been twins. The picture instantly became a family classic.

Mom was never afraid to learn from her kids.

When I was about 10, my primary teacher taught me how to crochet. I would practice long chains of stitches for hours on end. Eventually, I got somewhat good at it and was able to make granny squares- which the family used as hot pads in the kitchen. My stitches and eventual rows were never quite even and the edges were lop-sided but Mom never said anything about it. She always told me they looked great. One day, she asked me to teach her how to crochet. I was very excited to do so.

25First, we went to the store so that Mom could have her own needle and yarn. I recall Mom looking at all the different size needles. She asked me how you know which size needle to get. I told her the larger the needle the larger the stitch. She studied the needles further until she was sure which one would be the right one. It could not be too skinny nor too thick. She ended up selecting a needle that was 2 sizes larger than the one I had been using.

We then went to the yarn aisle. Mom had no idea that there were so many types of yarn. She would first touch the yarn to see which one she thought would be easiest for her to work with and then she made her selection based on color. She would take a skein of yarn and place it to another colored skein until she had just the right color scheme. Like most creative things she did, she always had something in mind.

As soon as we got home, I set to teaching Mom how to crochet. Mom was a quick learner but she did things her own way. While Mom was right handed, it appeared that she was left-handed when she crocheted. I would show Mom how I did the stitch. Then she would try it but it looked backwards to me. I kept telling her that she was doing it wrong. Mom would just say, “I need to do it my way and it will be fine”.

And, it was fine. Mom became quite talented with her crochet work. We had colorful crocheted blankets on all of our beds and she made dozens of baby blankets for friends and family over the years. Mom’s stitches and rows were always even. She only gave up crocheting when the arthritis in her hands prevented her from continuing.

Mom would go through certain periods of her life where she would try different things creatively. She learned to do ceramics. She learned how to can fruits and vegetables and that making your own ketchup is not worth the effort. She learned embroidery. She learned cake decorating. She learned how to garden. She was passionate about every new endeavor. And the best part is, that often, I got to learn with her by her side.

No mom is perfect. But Mom was the perfect mom for me.

I remember when I was about 8 years old, I ran away from home. I packed my yellow and orange flowered suitcase with a few clothes, some candy, a couple cherished and well-worn books and all my life’s savings… about $3.52.

I had a plan.

I would hop a bus out of town and go and live with Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma and Grandpa had lots of books and Grandma made awesome rolls- they were legendary and something the family talks about still to this day. I saw myself spending my days reading endlessly and eating yummy rolls to my heart’s content. It would be paradise… my idea of living happily ever after.

I do not recall exactly what triggered me to take such as drastic step but I do know it involved my 3 brothers. All my short young life, my three brothers seem to love to do things- terrible things from my perspective- just to get a reaction. And I always gave them one, which in hindsight, just seemed to encourage them even more.

It was probably just the typical things that brothers love to do … like making fart noises with their hands and armpits; wrestling to see who could squeeze out the loudest fart or at night- engaging in an epic, grand fart war. I never understood why a fart war required the cover of darkness. My brothers took a lot of pride in their ability to fart on demand. In my view, a lot of time was spent on this endeavor. I think if asked today, they would tell you that it was all worth it.

I was never really clear on the rules of fart war but I am pretty sure the winner was crowned for having the loudest and smelliest fart. I can also tell you that after a while, it gets smelly and it gets loud- very loud. It is all the time. It never lets up.

In short, with 3 brothers, I was out numbered. There was no hope.

So, I ran away.

It wasn’t until I had gotten around the block and was standing in front of my piano teacher’s house, that I heard it.

“Deborah Lynn!”

“Stop, right now!”

“Deborah Lynn! Deborah Lynn Westover!”

You need to understand that at that time in life, Mom did not like to leave the house unless her hair was done and her make-up carefully applied (This is something that she decidedly got over as she got older). I stopped and turned around and could not believe what I was seeing.

Mom had no shoes- she was barefoot- which in itself was not strange. It was the rest of it that astonished me. She had only half brushed her hair. She had no make-up on. She wore a thin nightgown. If the sun hit it just right you could see things that should not have been seen in broad daylight by anyone. Mom was running, yes actually running towards me, arms flaying in the air, yelling at me at the top of her lungs. She was truly a mess and a sight to behold. I remember thinking “Wow, that’s my Mom. And she was willing to do this for me.”

The entire neighborhood heard and saw all of the commotion. Mom did not care who saw or heard her. To me, she seemed panicked and downright terrified. I remained frozen in my spot. I had never seen her this way.

Once Mom reached me and she had regained her breath, she calmly asked me where I was going. So, I told her my plan as well as my litany of grievances against “the brothers” as they came to be known.

She listened to it all. She did not interrupt me- not once.

When I was done. She was remained silent for a few moments. I continued to look at her with unwavering determination that I would carry on with my plan. I was expecting some sort of demand to return home immediately. None came.

Instead, I recall her telling me for the first time that she does not understand this “whole sibling thing”. She said as an only child that she simply did not “get it”.

Then she surprised me further with what she said next.

“You are not going to leave me alone with them, are you?”

This thought had never occurred to me until that very moment and knew that I could not leave her.

We hugged and had an instant understanding and unbreakable bond. She reached for my suitcase with one hand and for my hand with the other and together we walked home, heads held high, in silence, ready to do battle as a team. From that day forward, I realized that Mom and me were in this together.

There were so many other times in my life that Mom did exactly what I needed to have done or said something I needed to be told. I could count on her to be direct and honest. We rarely had the typical teenager angst and disagreements that so many others seem to experience. On those rare occasions, it was my own stubbornness that created issues.

At times in her life and especially during her last few days, it seemed that our roles were reversed. However, the one true constant was I could always count on her to tell me the truth and she could count on me to do likewise. One of the last things, Mom told me was that she knows things that I do not know. I just wish she was able to tell me what those things were… I just know it was wonderful and amazing. It had to be. Otherwise, she never would have left.

Mom died on her own terms. We cried often as I knew that she loved us more than anything. Her family was everything to her. Mom never did like being left alone.
Even at the end, I knew that Mom and me were in this together until she decided that it was time for her to finally move on without me.

There is no question and absolutely no doubt in my mind… Mom was not perfect. But, Mom was the perfect mom for me.